Stevie May’s first Scottish Premiership hat-trick took his tally for the season to 15 as St Johnstone sank a make-shift Dundee United side in Perth.
Scorer: May (20, 57, 87)
Referee: S Finnie
United manager Jackie McNamara made eight changes to the side humbled by St Mirren on Boxing Day but the move backfired as the McDiarmid Park men claimed a 3-0 win.
May put the hosts ahead first from the penalty spot after United defender Calum Butcher had been shown a straight red for a last-man barge on the Scotland Under-21 international. His successful spot-kick ended his team’s 460-minute wait for a goal and he grabbed another with a terrific strike from a ridiculously tight angle on 57 minutes before tapping in a third with two minutes left.
Saints manager Tommy Wright was delighted with May’s display and claimed his side would have seen off United regardless of the red card decision. “I thought we started the game really well,” he said. “We totally dominated and were by far the better team.
“I just hope the performance is not overlooked by the fact they had a man sent off because even with 11 men, I don’t think they would have been able to compete with us today.
“I thought we were excellent. Stevie has had a good season and it was maybe a wee test for him today. He hadn’t scored for a few weeks but he works hard and is always a threat. Hopefully he can kick on again and go on a wee run again. Stevie will get the headlines but it was an excellent team performance.”
McNamara had promised to ring the changes following that painful 4-1 defeat in Paisley and stayed true to his word as only Radoslaw Cierzniak, Andrew Robertson and Paul Paton retained their places, while teenage sensation Ryan Gauld missed out with a groin injury.
Saints started well and were in full command of the match by the 20-minute mark, when they found themselves a man and a goal to the good.
Sean Dillon’s short headed back pass put his side in trouble. With May racing in on the loose ball and Cierzniak slow off his line, Butcher halted the striker’s run with a clothes line. Referee Stephen Finnie pointed to the spot and flashed red at the offender. From the penalty, May rolled it down the middle and into the net.
McNamara was forced to reshape his side but his decision to put on defender John Souttar meant an early end to on-loan frontman David Goodwillie’s farewell appearance for United as he prepares to return to parent club Blackburn Rovers with his career at a crossroads.
It could have been worse for the team-mates he left behind, though, had Robertson not cleared a Murray Davidson header off the line, but United did at least create their first opening after 26 minutes when Ryan Dow planted the ball into the side netting from a tight angle.
Davidson then twice came close just before the half hour as first Cierzniak blocked well from a low drive, while a scrum of Arabs players were required to deny him a second as the St Johnstone midfielder tried to scramble it home.
Right-back Mark Wilson thought he had levelled the match with a whipped free-kick that flew just wide of Alan Mannus’ right-hand post. Without the likes of Gauld, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci, the visitors lacked venom in attack but Chris Erskine did threaten with a shot over the bar after a mazy, surging 40-yard run upfield.
Saints continued to pose problems and, after a David Wotherspoon shot was only half cleared by Cierzniak, they worked the ball to May on the by-line. He skipped past Dillon with a clever drag back before burying the ball into the corner with a shot from the tightest of angles. It was a missile of a strike that literally succeeded in bursting the netting, meaning the game had to be held up as repairs were carried out.
Before their defeat in Paisley, the Tannadice side had racked up 22 goals as part of a six-game winning streak. But fearing a second loss on the bounce, McNamara called for Gary Mackay-Steven and Armstrong as Dow and Erskine were sacrificed.
However, even the Scotland squad men could not spark a cavalry charge and May swept home from Edwards’ low cross in the 88th minute to complete a win that secures St Johnstone’s slot in the top six.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, Anderson, Wright, B Easton (Scobbie 44), Wotherspoon (Hasselbaink 76), M Davidson, Cregg (Brown 84), McDonald, Edwards, May. Subs not used: Croft, Jahic, Banks, Fallon.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Wilson, Butcher, Dillon, Robertson, Paton, Gomis, Erskine (Armstrong 64), Goodwillie (Souttar 23), Dow (Mackay-Steven 64), Graham. Subs not used: Rankin, Ciftci, McCallum, Connolly.